Arctic Ice Surprise in East Siberia

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From Science Matters

By Ron Clutz

Oil tanker NS Arctic sailing in icy waters. Photo: Dmitry Lobusov, icebreaker captain for Rosatomflot

With the warmer water temperatures in the North Atlantic this summer, we can expect lower Arctic sea ice extents.  But maybe not.  Barents Observer reports A month after they set out on Arctic voyage, two Russian oil tankers still battle with sea-ice.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The ships that are loaded with more than 200,000 tons of oil
might have been surprised by ice pack in the East Siberian Sea.

The Primorsky Prospect and NS Arctic on the 12th and 14th of July respectively set out from St.Petersburg with course for the Chinese ports of Dalian and Rizhao. They were to arrive at destinations by the middle of August.  That schedule is now significantly postponed. Shipping data show that the ships will make it to the Chinese ports no earlier than 26th of August.

Although the tankers both have ice classification Arc3, their voyage across the Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea have been marred with troubles with the sea-ice.   For several days, the tankers were at standstill off the New Siberian Islands, and later also in the southern part of the East Siberian Sea.

Nevertheless, the long and icy voyage of the two oil tankers raises new questions about the actual benefits of sailing on the Northern Sea Route, as well as security in the area.

Sea-ice in thee East Siberian Sea in period 6-8th of August 2023. Map by Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute

Both the NS Arctic and Primorsky Prospect have ice classification Arc3, but neither of them have permission to sail independently through the most complex parts of the Northern Sea Route in anything but light ice conditions.  Growing parts of the East Siberian Sea are ice-free. But changes can quickly occur in this region and a sudden emergence of ice pack might have taken the ships by surprise.

But in medium ice conditions, the ships are obliged to hire icebreaker escort. It is not clear to what extent the tankers have made it into medium ice conditions. But ice maps from the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute show that major parts of the East Siberian Sea have a white sheet.

“Perhaps the wind has pushed the ice pack towards the coast, increasing the concentration locally so that there’s no longer continuous green strip along the coast?” an anonymous industry expert says to the Barents Observer.

According to the expert, there appears to be no imminent risk for a dangerous situation.

Nuclear icebreaker Sibir escorts ships through the Vilkitsky Strait. Photo: Rosatom/Kirill Razin